via Friends of the Earth Europe & Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief
A leader of Canada’s Indigenous peoples gave a dramatic eyewitness account of the environmental and social devastation associated with mining tar sands at the world’s biggest tourism fair on Friday March 8, ahead of key vote by the European Council later this year that could deter tar sands from being exported to Europe. The European Commission said recently it was sticking to its guns in labeling tar sands as one of the world’s dirtiest crudes under the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) despite strong protests from Ottawa and a major lobbying effort by the oil industry to water down the EU law. The Directive is a pillar of the bloc’s climate legislation that aims to reduce emissions from transport fuels.
Representatives from Canada’s First Nations and the environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe are at the Berlin International Travel Fair (ITB) expo to protest about the destruction of Canada’s natural environment and publicize the dangers of tar sands expansion.
Canada sits on the world’s third-largest oil reserves but the vast majority is unconventional crude, including tar sands – clay-like deposits that are some of the oil industry’s most polluting fuels. European Commission studies show that mining just one barrel of oil from tar sands generates 23% more emissions than from conventional crudes.
NASA scientist James Hansen has warned in an opinion piece for the New York Times that if Canada continued to exploit oil sands production it will mean “game over” for the planet. “If we were to fully exploit this new oil source … concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now,” Hansen wrote.
Canada’s tar sands operations are concentrated in the second most western province of Alberta, spanning roughly 700 square kilometers an area so large they can be seen from space.
Ottawa’s shame: the untold story
Chief Bill Erasmus, head of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories, said Canada has gone from being known as the “Great White North” and a country of outstanding natural beauty to a “petro-state” with one of the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The Dene Nation covers a large geographical area — from Alaska to the southern-most tip of North America.
“The tar sands industry is destroying the way of life of First Nations peoples. On the one hand Ottawa is seeking to sell Canada as a top tourist destination for nature lovers at the ITB while simultaneously destroying kilometers of wilderness,” said Erasmus, from Denendeh, who is also a regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Northwest Territories.
Alberta is home to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one of the country’s main attractions, that draws millions of tourists every year – 2.1 million Europeans in 2012 alone. According to Canadian government statistics, Europe is the source of most of its overseas visitors annually with the United Kingdom (622,754), France (432,987) and Germany (308,825) sending the most.
Erasmus said the extraction process was making his ancestral homeland uninhabitable in contravention of existing treaties. And he revealed how mining squandered vast amounts of fresh water and natural gas, left lakes of sludgy toxic pollution and released carcinogens into the environment (Please see attachment 1).
There is evidence the oil’s environmental impact is having a detrimental effect on Canada’s image abroad, according to documents obtained by Friends of the Earth Europe under access-to-information laws. In one heavily redacted email detailing a high-level meeting between British and Canadian diplomats, Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, described tar sands as “a totemic issue, hitting directly on Brand Canada”.
Europe next if Canada has its way
Canadian tar sands could soon hit European shores despite the European Commission’s effort to label fuels from tar sands deposits as highly polluting under the FQD (See report Keeping Their Head In Tar Sands). Canada is urgently seeking new markets for its energy-intensive tar sand oil to compensate for dwindling U.S. buying and has European refiners in its sights.
“If Canada, which recently withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, is successful in watering down EU laws on emissions allowed from fuels it will open the door to oil sands-derived fuels in Europe and seriously undermine Europe’s fight against climate change,” said Darek Urbaniak of Friends of the Earth Europe.
“Canada through intense lobbying efforts has been trying to scupper EU legislation since it was first mooted. EU law makers know tar sands are the most climate hostile energy source in commercial production today and they should not give in to Canadian pressure,” he said.
An inconclusive EU vote on the introduction of the FQD last year forced the European Commission to carry out an Impact Assessment on the Directive, the results of which are due out in the next couple of months ahead of another European Council vote later in the year. Just last month, in a major lobbying effort, two ministers from Alberta visited 11 EU countries between them to argue that the proposed EU law discriminates unfairly against Canadian oil.
Click here to read the text of the letter to the Canadian tourism representatives at Berlin ITB from Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief, AFN Regional Chief (NWT)